On Thursday, March 26th, the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre will open its next production, Terrence McNally’s Mothers & Sons. The production is directed by Station Artistic Director Rick Orr and features Barbara Ridenour, Thom Schnarre, Eric Beckley, and Max Libman.
The Station’s synopsis of the play, posted on their website, describes the play thusly:
At turns funny and powerful, Mothers and Sons portrays a woman who pays an unexpected visit to the New York apartment of her late son’s partner, who is now married to another man and has a young son. Challenged to face how society has changed around her, generations collide as she revisits the past and begins to see the life her son might have led.
Smile Politely’s Nina Samii-Frye interviewed Orr via email, and his responses follow.
Smile Politely: What drew you to this script?
Rick Orr (left): The script does an interesting take on where we have come since the AIDS crisis of the 80’s to today’s legalized gay marriage and to even gay couples having children. It was not an easy struggle, nor does it continue to be easy — especially with the state of Alabama still fighting gay marriages. The play shows losses through the main character, Andre — whom we never see, for he has died from AIDS—and how we try to still live our lives in light of a loss. The mention of Andre means different things to the four characters in the play. Through the mother we come to realize that some people still have difficulty with gay relationships and yet, through the young boy who has known about AIDS in school and the Quilt, there is hope for the future.
SP: What can you tell me about your cast?
Orr: Barbara, Thom, and Eric have all appeared in previous production at The Station Theatre. Barbara and Thom have also directed in the space and are both board members. Barbara has retired from teaching drama at University High School, and Thom teaches at Parkland. Eric is a massage therapist at Bodyworks. The young boy, Max, is local and in grade school.
SP: The characters in Mothers and Sons make dramatic shifts in emotion during their conversations, from heavy to joking and back again. Was it difficult for the actors to navigate these shifts?
Orr: McNally gives a roller-coaster of language to the actors, and they must follow the beats and rhythm to provide the emotional changes often having to do when Andre is discussed.
SP: When researching the play and Terrance McNally, I read that he also wrote Lips Together, Teeth Apart, which sounded very familiar to me. Upon further research, I discovered it was produced by the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre the same year I did my first show there, 23 years ago. The title had stuck with me all this time. What words has McNally written that have stuck with you over time?
Orr: McNally has written nearly 60 plays and musicals, I think. As a gay playwright he has continued to mark the changing times to appropriate words in each play to reach a modern audience. This play was actually based on an earlier play of his… a one act called Andre’s Mother.
SP: To what extent do you agree with the play’s assertion that society’s view of homosexuals has changed?
Orr: As mentioned before, our views have certainly changed over the years with even new laws for protection of homosexuals in today’s society. But, as with any minority, there are those who refuse to let people live their lives in peace and harmony. The progress of today is due to those brave individuals of the past.
Mothers & Sons opens March 26th and runs through April 11th at the Station Theatre in Urbana. For reservations, call 217-384-4000 or visit the Station website. There will be an interactive audience “talkback” with representatives of the Greater Community AIDS Project of Eastern Illinois after the Friday, March 27th performance. There will also be several blocks from the commemorative AIDS Quilt displayed in the lobby courtesy of GCAP.